Project Hail Mary

Page 92

Everything feels upside down. I used the centrifuge in manual mode, so it did exactly what I told it to do and nothing else: It extended the cables. It did not rotate the crew compartment to face inward. The centrifuge pushes everything toward the nose of the crew compartment. The lab is “up” from me now, and the dormitory is even farther “up.”

I don’t even know where the manual controls for the crew-compartment rotation are and I don’t have time to look for them. For now, I’ll have to work in upside-down land.

I bound to the airlock and open it up. Everything is a shambles inside, but I don’t care. I untangle the wadded-up EVA suit and detach the gloves. I put them on.

Back in the control room, I stand on the consoles (the control panels are “down” now). I hope I’m not damaging things too much. I position myself over Rocky’s body, grab both sides of his carapace with my gloved hands, and lift.

Good. God.

I put him back down. If I try to move him like that, I’ll throw out my back. But I did lift him, however briefly. It felt like 200 pounds. Thank god we’re in one-half gravity. He’d weigh 400 pounds at full gravity.

I’ll need more than my hands to lift him.

I throw off the gloves, bounce back to the airlock, and fling items aside until I find the safety tethers. I wrap two tethers under Rocky’s carapace and loop them over my shoulders. I burn my arms in several places during the process, but I’ll deal with that later.

I clip each tether to itself under my armpits. This won’t be comfortable and it definitely won’t look cool, but my hands will be free and I’ll be lifting with my legs.

I reach through the hatchway to the lab with both hands and get ahold of the closest rung of the ladder. It’s slow going at first. There’s no ladder in the control room. Why would there be? No one thought it would be upside down.

My shoulders scream in pain. This is not a well-designed backpack with a properly distributed load. It’s 200 pounds of alien held up by two thin straps digging into my collarbones. And I just have to hope the melting point of the nylon tethers is higher than Rocky’s body temperature.

I grunt and grimace, one rung at a time, until I get my feet into the lab. I use the edge of the hatchway to brace my feet and pull Rocky up with the straps.

The lab is a disaster. Everything is in piles all over the ceiling. Only the table and chairs remain on the floor above me—they’re bolted to the floor. And, thankfully, most of the more delicate equipment is bolted to them. However, that delicate off-the-shelf lab equipment wasn’t designed to be rattled around like popcorn and subjected to 6 or 7 g’s. I wonder how many things are hopelessly broken.

The gravity is less up here. I’m closer to the center of the centrifuge. The higher I get the easier things will be.

I kick lab supplies and equipment out of my way and drag Rocky to the dormitory hatchway. I repeat the painful process I just did a moment ago. The force is less, but it still hurts. Again, I use the hatchway as a bracing point to pull Rocky into the room.

My little section of the dormitory barely fits us both. Rocky’s section is a mess, just like the lab. His workbench wasn’t bolted in place, so it’s on the ceiling now.

I drag him across the ceiling and I get up on my bunk. It has swiveled completely around, thanks to its rocking pivot mounting. It’s a handy platform for reaching the airlock between my zone and Rocky’s.

The airlock door sits open on my side. He used it to come save me.

“Man, why did you do that?!” I grouse.

He could have let me die. He should have, really. He could handle the centripetal force, no problem. He could have taken his time, whipped up an invention, and used it to get back control of the ship. Yeah, I know, he’s a good guy and he saved my life, but this isn’t about us. He has a planet to save. Why risk his life and his whole mission for me?

The airlock door doesn’t reach the ceiling, so I’ll have to play “The Floor Is Lava” to get in.

I hop into the airlock from my bunk, then use the straps to pull Rocky in with me. I start to climb back out and that’s when I see the airlock-control panel.

Or, rather, I see the destroyed box that was once the airlock-control panel.

“Oh, come on!” I yell.

Both sides of the airlock had control panels, so either Rocky or I could operate it as needed. But now mine are ruined—probably smacked by some debris flying around during the chaos.

I have to get him back into his environment, but how? I have an idea. It’s not a good idea. There’s an emergency valve in the airlock chamber itself that can let air in from Rocky’s side.

It’s there to cover a very specific edge case. There’s no way I can ever enter Rocky’s area of the ship. I certainly can’t handle his environment, and my EVA suit would be crushed like a grape. But Rocky can come into my area with his homemade ball-spacesuit thing. So, just to be extra safe—just in case there was an emergency while Rocky was in his ball in the airlock—there’s a relief valve that will let the air from his side vent in. It’s a large iron lever, so it can be manipulated with the magnets Rocky carries with him while in the ball.

I look at the lever in the airlock. I glance at the airlock’s door to my compartment and its spinning-wheel lock. I look back to the lever, then back to the door.

I coil my muscles and mentally count to three.

I pull the lever and leap toward my compartment.

Blazing-hot ammonia floods the airlock and dormitory. I slam the airlock door behind me and spin the wheel lock. I hear hissing on the other side but I don’t see anything. I might never see anything again.

My eyes burn like they’re on fire. My lungs feel like a hundred knives are having a dance-off. My skin is numb all along my left side. And my nose—forget it. The smell is so overpowering my sense of smell just gives up.

My throat completely closes off. My body wants nothing to do with the ammonia.

“Com…” I wheeze. “Com…pu…ter…”

I want to die. Pain is everywhere. I climb into my bunk.

“Help!” I wheeze.

“Multiple injuries,” says the computer. “Excessive eye mucus. Blood around the mouth, second-degree burns. Breathing distress. Triage result: intubate.”

The mechanical arms, which thankfully don’t seem to have any problem with being upside down, grab me and something is shoved violently down my throat. I feel a poke on my good arm.

“IV fluids and sedation,” the computer reports.

And then I’m out like a light.


* * *


Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.